Nine Inch Nails *** 1/2
The Null Corp.
by bands are usually just footnotes (see also the Beastie Boys' The Mix-Up).
But this collection of dense headphone music feels like a creative breakthrough
for Trent Reznor. A new-media showpiece like Radiohead's In Rainbows, Ghosts
I-IV is a self-released kiss-off to Reznor's former label, Universal, which
he ditched last year after months of public feuding. You can download part of
it (free) or all 1.8 hours ($5), or order it in various physical configurations
(the $300 limited edition has already sold out to fanatics). Musically, Ghosts
rewards close attention. The touchstone is Brian Eno's headier work: the murky
instrumentals on Another Green World, the angular rhythm collages of My
Life in the Bush of Ghosts. But Reznor's own hyperdetailed language defines
the set: heaving synthesizers, doleful piano, alien-insect noises. There are
animalistic contributions by King Crimson guitarist Adrian Belew, so the
apocalyptic ambience frequently rocks. And since it's licensed with Creative
Commons (the organization that redefines copyright to encourage noncommercial
artistic sampling), Ghosts' awesome sound palette may soon enter the
digital-music lingua franca — a gift that should keep on giving.